A Khmer Rouge leader insisted Wednesday he had no authority during the regime’s rule of Cambodia and allegations he bore responsibility for its atrocities were a “fairy tale.”
Head of state Khieu Samphan told a tribunal he was a figurehead who never joined key policy meetings in the radical communist government, which is accused of orchestrating the “killing fields” and causing the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s.
In his rebuttal, he said the prosecutors’ opening remarks were exaggerations based mainly on unreliable old news reports and books.
After the trial of Khieu Samphan and two other leaders opened Monday, prosecutors described the pitiless policies the Khmer Rouge imposed to build an agrarian utopia.
The tribunal is seeking justice on behalf of the quarter of Cambodia’s population who died from executions, starvation, disease and overwork under the Khmer Rouge rule.
The defendants are the most senior surviving members of the regime: Khieu Samphan; Nuon Chea, the group’s chief ideologist; and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary. They are charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, persecution, homicide, and torture.
The Khmer Rouge’s supreme leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 in Cambodia’s jungles while a prisoner of his own comrades.
Khieu Samphan stressed the nationalist credentials of the Khmer Rouge, who opposed French colonialism, fought against a pro-Western regime and its U.S. backers, and finally forced a showdown with neighboring Vietnam.
Khieu Samphan has said he has known Verges since he attended university in France in the 1950s, when both were active in student movements against French colonialism.
“He and I used to attend meetings of student committees against colonialism. That’s what bound us together in friendship,” Mr. Khieu said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press.
Verges has defended Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal and Nazi Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie and is noted for a slashing, sarcastic courtroom style, aimed as much at discrediting the judicial establishment as getting his clients off the hook.
Khieu Samphan, along with Verges, reminded the court that intensive U.S. bombing of his country during the Vietnam War contributed to its misery. “Can you imagine what my country faced after such bloody killing and war?” Mr. Khieu declared.
While decrying the case against him, Khieu Samphan added that he welcomed the opportunity to explain his role to the Cambodian public.